A reader writes:
Due to changes in European and UK law recently, my employer is planning to outfit all vehicles used for business with Telematics tracking devices. I have no great issue with this on the face of it; I have worked at previous employers where their commercial vehicles (liveried vans and trucks) were fitted with these devices, and in my experience, as long as they aren’t used as a stick to beat people with, they generally just fade into the background and become a normal part of work.
My issue is the fact that I am not a company car driver. I took the option of taking a monthly car allowance and mileage reimbursement and purchased my own vehicle that I use for work. Initially, it was pitched to us as getting a device that worked just like a normal sat nav, the difference being that it had the Telematics function also going on in the background (logging speed, distance, location, time stopped, etc. and reporting that back). At that point, I relaxed a little as this was a device I was in control of; I could unhook it at the end of the day and be “off the grid.”
Well, after piloting different systems, they have now decided on a fully fitted system — effectively a box concealed inside your dashboard that is always on. There will be a keyfob that can switch the device to a “privacy mode” so that when you are off the clock it will hide the locations you visited from your boss … but as I understand it, it will still log milage, speed, and distance so your driving style is still monitored and your private mileage is recorded to ensure accuracy of your business mileage returns. Pulling the fuse for the device to disable it gets reported to the tracking company and will be considered a disciplinary offense.
I am not a fan of this … not one bit. No one who drives for business at my level is a fan of this either. I’m picking up vibes that my boss isn’t much of a fan, but is under greater pressure to toe the line.
I know you are U.S.-based, so I’m not going to ask any legal question. My big issues are first privacy: I accept that my employer has the right (even arguably the obligation under duty of care) to track all of this during business hours, and opposing this is not a hill I’m prepared to die on. What I do not accept is any tracking or data collection of any of my private activities in my own vehicle. I don’t accept the fleet manager’s reply of “If you aren’t up to anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about” as any kind of justification. Second, any alteration to the fixtures and fittings and especially wiring of my car is considered to be a modification by my insurer (which increases my premium) and could invalidate my manufacturer’s warranty.
To make matters worse (from my perspective), the company supplying the trackers actually has a plug-and-play version that attaches either to the 12v socket or the diagnostic port. It says on their website that this is specifically for owner drivers who use their cars for business. I brought up this option in the last meeting to discuss this (as from my perspective, this was the path of least resistance for everyone getting what they want) and I was told that this wasn’t an option, as it would make grey-fleet drivers different from company car drivers.
Am I (or we, as I’m far from alone) out of line for bringing all this up? I could sense clear irritation from the fleet manager when I attended a meeting to discuss this. When I raised my privacy issues, he gave me a diatribe about how nobody in the fleet department is interested in where I go shopping or where I go out of an evening and worrying about that is bordering on paranoia. Any issues I brought up about the insurance/warranty were hand-waved with “you always have the option of going back to a company car where these things aren’t going to be an issue for you.”
As I’ve been mired in this for months, only really discussing this with other similar level employees and with us all getting worked up about it, do you think we’ve lost some perspective?
Hell, no, I do not.
You’re being asked to modify your own personal car, possibly invalidate your warranty, and give your employer the ability to track your off-hours movements.
“If you aren’t up to anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about” is offensive in its lack of appreciation for why someone might care about privacy, regardless of what they are or aren’t doing. It’s an attempt to shame people into backing off of important privacy concerns by implying that only wrongdoers should have those concerns, and it has a long and horrid history of being used to justify invasive surveillance. It also ignores the world’s very long history of misusing personal information to harm people who didn’t actually do anything wrong.
Can you take this over the fleet manager’s head? The person in charge of the cars shouldn’t be the person deciding whether the company is going to inflict a major privacy violation on its employees, along with the demoralization and retention issues that could come along with that. I’d go above him, and do it as a group.
I don’t know about the laws in the UK, but in the U.S., if you pushed back on this as a group, the law would prevent your employer from penalizing you for it (because the law specifically protects employees who are banding together about working conditions, even if they’re not in a formal union). But even without that legal protection, a decent employer would want to know that a bunch of employees are pissed off about a change like this — especially when there’s apparently a really easy alternative that would address the concerns (the plug-and-play device that you mentioned).
Speak up, do it in a group, and take it to someone with decision-making authority above the fleet manager.
And don’t get shamed into thinking that there’s something wrong with not wanting your employer to be able to track your life outside of work. You don’t live in a police state, and your employer isn’t your 24/7 overseer.